Fly Rod Weights Explained – Complete Guide & Fly Rod Weight Chart


There is plenty of choice out there when it comes to fly fishing, whether that is flies, lines… And even rods! Aside from different actions and features, all fly rods are assigned a weight.

It is one of the most confusing things for beginners, and if you are feeling a little perplexed, read through our guide on fly rod weights explained for a better understanding.

Fly rod weight doesn’t refer to how heavy the rod is in terms of how it feels in your hand. Instead, it refers to the weight of the line you should pair up with the rod to achieve the most optimum casting capability. Generally, the lower the weight rating, the ‘lighter’ the line used.

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Fly Fishing Rod Weights Explained

So, you want to know all about fly rod weights?

You are in the right place.

The weight rating given to fly rods shouldn’t be confused with how much the rod actually weighs in terms of ounces, grams, or whatever measure you use…

Yes, you read that right.

The weight of a rod has nothing to do with mass.

So, what is it ‘fly rod weight’?

Fly rod weight is an assigned number used to denote the weight of the line that will work most optimally with the rod. Each rod is given a number or range of numbers explaining which line should be used.

  • The numbers ranging from 1 – 3 are considered ‘light’ rods.
  • About 4 – 6 are considered ‘mid weight’ fly fishing rods.
  • Number ratings from 7 and up are considered ‘heavy’ fly fishing rods.

We can get quite a lot of vital clues from this simple number. It gives us lots of good information about where the rods are intended to be used, how they will cast, and the size of fish it is meant to be used to catch.

Want to make it even simpler?

A better way to think of ‘fly fishing rod weight’ is to consider it a measure of fly line thickness. The lower the number or ‘rod rating’, the thinner and lighter the line you’ll be expecting to use. If the number is higher, you’ll expect to use a thicker and heavier line.

Want more clarification?

Here are some general rod weights broken down by class and a quick overview of how they are generally used…

two men fishing in river with fly rod during summer morning

What are 1-Weight Fly Rods Good for?

1-Weight fly rods are the lightest fly-fishing rods. They are good for fishing in small streams and light conditions and catching smaller species such as brook trout using tiny flies.

They tend to be only used with light floating lines. Casting distance with light lines is limited.

What are 3-Weight Fly Rods Good for?

3-weight rods are for slightly bigger fish and rivers. They still aren’t considered heavy-duty rods. They are primarily designed for fishing medium to small rivers and creeks and can be used with wet and dry lines.

You could also consider using a 3-weight rod on smaller still waters.

They can just about handle larger species.

Want to see some of the best 3-weight rods for the money? Here’s my dedicated guide.

What are 5-Weight Fly Rods Good for?

5-weight rods are the perfect all-rounder for several different fly fishing applications. They are just heavy enough to tackle sizeable fish, and they tend to cast a good distance too. They can be used in smaller streams but are also good for larger rivers and big still waters.

With 5-weight rods, anglers can use both floating and sinking lines.

There are plenty of nice 5-weight rods around, check these out!

fly fishing rod and reel with different types of fishing flies

What are 7-Weight Fly Rods Good for?

7-weight rods start occupying ‘heavy’ territory. They are generally used by those hunting bigger species in larger and stronger water. They are a little heavy for fishing with a floating line and tend to be used with big flies when hunting big game fish like salmon.

What’s so good about 7-weight rods? I’ve got an article here showing you what they are all about.

What are 9-Weight Fly Rods Good for?

9 weight rods and above are truly the ‘big guns’ of the fly-fishing world. They are only really suitable for larger species on big water. You’ll often find sea anglers using 9-weight fly rods for hard-fighting species like bonefish and tarpon.

They would certainly be overkill for small lakes and streams.

Want to see all the below information at a glance? Check out our fly-fishing rod weight chart below.

Fly Rod Weights Chart

Rod Weight Average Length Line Used Typical Rod Action Best for… Type of Venue
1 – 2 7 – 9 ft Dry Slow Brook trout, brown trout, small rainbows Small streams and very small still waters
2 – 4 9 – 12ft Wet/Dry Slow – mid Brook trout, brown trout, small rainbows, small bass Streams, up to medium rivers and mid-sized still waters
5 11 – 13ft Wet/Dry Mid All freshwater species A good all-rounder suitable for most venues
6 – 7  13ft+ Wet/Dry Mid – fast Large trout, large bass, small-mid salmon. Steelhead. Large, fast-flowing rivers, big still waters like dams and reservoirs
8+ 13ft+ Wet Only Fast Very large species like salmon. Tarpon. Sea bass. Bonefish Sea fishing and big game fishing venues.

Why Can’t I Use a Sinking Line with a 1 or 2 Weight Rod?

Remember how we said that 1 and 2 weight rods are used for small flies and small fish?

The blank simply isn’t strong enough to haul the weight of a heavy submerged line from beneath the surface of the water.

It’s for this reason that you’ll rarely see a wt-1 or wt-2 line in the wet variety. Sinking line is naturally heavy, and this doesn’t work well with lightweight rods.

Want to know what the different fly lines look and act like? Here’s my expert guide to choosing fly lines.

man casting fly rod and working with fly line

How to Determine Fly Rod Weight

Determining fly rod weight is actually pretty easy.

Along with the length of the rod, this is one key piece of information that most rod manufacturers readily share. Simply look at the rod blank just above the cork handle to find the rod weight.

It will be noted in a couple of ways; either a ‘#’ symbol followed by a number, or alternatively, it will sometimes be a number proceeded by the letters ‘wt’.

Here’s an example.

If the rod says either ‘#4’ or ‘wt4’, it should be paired up with a 4-weight fly line. It really is that easy.

To suit their casting style, some anglers choose to go a little outside of the above boundaries.

However…

This is not recommended as it can stress your rod if you choose a line that is too heavy and make it harder to cast if you choose a too light line.

fly fisherman wearing wading pants and fly fishing in river

How Do I Choose a Fly Rod Weight?

Choosing a fly rod weight is actually pretty simple. As a general rule, consider how and where you’ll be using the rod 90% of the time, and from there, pick the rod weight that most closely matches the requirements demanded. Check my fly rod weight chart.

Here are the things to think about to help you decide:

Fish Species

Above all else, what will dictate your rod weight is the species you seek. It is no use fishing with a heavy 9-weight rod when only targeting brook trout. Nor would it be wise to target big steelhead with a 1-weight rod.

As a good general rule of thumb, double the rod’s weight rating, and that will be around the maximum weight of the fish that it’s intended to handle.

So, a 1-weight rod is designed for fish up to around 2lbs. A 5-weight rod will comfortably handle a 10lb fish… And so on.

Most rods will go a little higher than this rule, but this should give you a nice ballpark figure to work with.

Venue

Your choice of venue will also dictate the rod weight that you require. If you are fishing small streams, you won’t be casting a long way, so you won’t need a heavy rod capable of punching out 50+ yards of line.

Likewise.

If you are fishing big water, you will need to cast a long way (often into the wind), and a small, 2-weight rod isn’t going to cut it.

Think about where you will be fishing and what you’ll need to do to get your fly to where the fish are.

Type of Fly Fishing

Certain rods are better for certain applications. Bigger, ‘heavier’ rods excel in casting wet flies, fished at range, subsurface. They are ideal for getting a heavy line down deep to the fish in large lakes and reservoirs.

Conversely.

Suppose you look to fish delicately with really natural imitation patterns on the surface. In that case, your best bet will be to go with a lighter rod.

Why?

They allow you to perform light and feathery casts with the most natural fly presentation.

Fly Size

Generally speaking, bigger flies require heavier rod weights. Big streamers are going to need something bigger than a 6-weight for sure. If you go much lighter, you’ll find that the combined weight of the line and the fly messes up your casting distance and presentation.

Bigger rods, such as wt7 and beyond, aren’t the best for making gentle casts with small flies. The weight of the heavier line with the rod means that the fly tends to ‘splash’ and sink. While this doesn’t always happen, it will be challenging for beginners.

Experience

Speaking of beginners…

Here’s another good general rule. The heavier the rod, the harder it is to cast.

Learning to cast is one of the most challenging aspects of fly fishing, and anything that makes it easier is good. A nice 4-weight rod will be much easier to cast than a 7-weight. There is less line out because the casting distance is less, making it easier to manage.

Because 4-weight rods generally have slower action, they are much more responsive too.

fly fisherman fishing at river

Fly Rod Weight FAQ

What is the best all-around fly rod weight?

The best all-around fly rod weight is a 5-weight rod. This sits right in the middle of both ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ and will allow beginners and experienced anglers to fish for different species in different styles. A 5-weight rod is pretty easy to cast, can be fitted with a wet or dry line, and is a manageable length.

Work on this rod as your ‘datum’ and then choose a rod one size up or down if you are just getting started. If you think you need something lighter, go for a 4-weight rod,

If you’d like something heavier, a 6-weight rod should fit the bill perfectly.

What is good rod weight for Bass?

Bass are hard fighting and fairly sizeable fish. They tend to go for larger flies and streamers over small dry flies too. For that reason, I’d suggest opting for a 5 or 6 – weight rod.

This will give you the ability to cast large streamers at a distance and also has a strong enough blank to battle even the biggest bass.

What is good fly rod weight for Trout?

The true answer is the right rod weight for trout depends on what size trout you are going for. I personally fish with a 4-weight rod as a minimum.

This gives me flexibility in the size of fish I catch. If I look for bigger fish on larger venues, I would probably beef my tackle up to a weight – 5 rod and maybe even a good 6-weight rod.

What is the best rod weight for Salmon?

Salmon grow pretty sizeable and are often caught on large streamers with sinking lines. As a minimum, I’d suggest opting for a 7-weight rod.

Giving you plenty of casting distance and the ability to throw a large, heavy fly into those deep pools. You could go slightly lighter with a 6-weight if you wanted something for both big trout and mid-sized salmon.

For big fish, an 8-weight rod is also not a bad choice. Here’s a selection that you might want to consider.

Fly rod weight for Steelhead, what to pick?

Want to hear a cool fact that even some experienced anglers don’t know?

It’s been found that steelhead is more closely related to salmon than trout.

As a result, you should treat them as such, meaning you will want to use a heavier rod to catch them. They can grow pretty big and are often found in big rivers with strong currents, so a weight 6 or 7 fly rod would be ideal.

How do I know what weight your fly rod is?

You could always just ask me?

Nah, just kidding.

The easiest way to tell the weight of a fly rod is to look at the butt section just above the rod handle. Normally the rod weight will be written there for all to see.

Does fly line weight need to match rod weight?

Generally, the fly line does need to match the rod weight for you to be fishing optimally. Some rods will have two possible weights published, in which case it’s all down to personal preference.

You might get away with being the wrong side of the published weight, but you’ll find the rod performs and acts differently, and it really isn’t advisable.

Conclusion

Once you’ve had fly rod weights explained, choosing becomes so much easier. Think about what you want to catch and choose a rod weight most suited to those two criteria.

If you are in the process of choosing a fly rod, here is a great article offering further advice. If you are a beginner, I’ve hand-picked some rods especially for you!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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